Last week I took a day-and-a-half out of a pretty crammed work plan to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh. Could I have used that time to get some work off my desk and out of my inbox? Sho nuff. But I went to the conference for two main reasons:

  1. I always stumble over business opportunities that I might never think of back at my desk.
  2. I might (gasp) learn something that would benefit my business or my clients'.

To my mind, these are smart reasons to "skip out" on the office work and do the conference work. Whenever someone at The Word Factory wants to attend a conference,  we make sure we know why we're going -- what we want to get out of it. And then we make sure we get that.

I walked out of the event with four actionable business ideas -- ways that The Word Factory can use existing capabilities to serve different types of clients, or new services we can develop to better serve clients and attract new ones. I also got useful feedback on the corporate and job-seeker storytelling service we have in development so I'm clear on the next step.

Did I learn anything? Yup. I picked up some tips from the folks at Yelp that will definitely help the retail business owners I'm coaching. I got some good data points to support hunches about search and social networking that I've had for a while, too. I used a few of those nuggets in a new-client pitch on Friday. Finally, I glommed onto some new thinking about online reputation management, which I came in handy when a client called with a problem.  That's two things that were immediately useful (and fruitful!).

And while I didn't go to the event with express purpose of meeting folks (though sometimes that's the hook), I ended up meeting George, developer of Curio, a software product that's perfect for a non-profit Steve's launching. Score!

So the next time you hear yourself wondering if you should got to that conference or industry event, evaluate it in terms of its potential business value:

  1. What could you learn?
  2. Could you find new business ideas?
  3. Is there an opportunity to meet the "right" people?

If the answer is anything but a firm "yes", fuggedaboudit. You would be better off staying at your desk. But if you've got a good reason to go, get out there! The change of venue and exposure to new people and ideas will do you good! (Read more thoughts on getting value from conferences by my pal Joe Procopio)

For tips on thriving at a trade show, click here.